Archive for College

Demography of the Good Player, Part I: Amateur Origins

Recently, Jeff Sullivan wrote a piece here attempting to answer a question notable both for its simplicity and importance. The question: how many good players were good prospects?

As Sullivan notes, one typically finds the question pursued in reverse: of this or that group of prospects (top-10 prospects, top-100 prospects, etc), how did they fare in the major leagues (if they even made it that far)? There’s great utility in this sort of information — in particular where our understanding of prospect valuations is concerned. An appearance by a young player on one of these prospect lists tends to indicate, if not certain future value, at least present trade value. In other words: even those prospects who fail to record even one plate appearance or innings — even they are capable of possessing significant value.

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The Top Performances of College Baseball

What follows does not constitute the most rigorous of statistical analyses. Rather, it’s designed to serve as a nearly responsible shorthand for people who, like the author, have considerably more enthusiasm for than actual knowledge of the collegiate game — a shorthand means, that is, towards detecting which players have produced the most excellent performances over the first week of the college season.

As in the first ever edition of this same thing from last week, what I’ve done is utilize principles recently introduced by Chris Mitchell on forecasting future major-league performance with minor-league stats.

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Please Observe as an Imbecile Crafts His First Pref List

Just over four years ago now, I wrote a post for this site called Dollar Sign on the Scout. A nod, that title, to an excellent work of non-fiction by Kevin Kerrane. The basic goal of the post was to identify those scouts who had created the most surplus value for their respective clubs — which is to say, had signed the players who produced wins above and beyond the sort their respective signing-bonus dollar figures would typically fetch on the open market. For the purposes of that study, I used Victor Wang’s then mostly current work on prospect valuations (updated multiple times in the interim). I also used the signing-scout data made available for each prospect by Baseball America in their annual handbook documenting such players.

By this methodology, the top scout over the five-year period between 2006 and -10 was Detroit’s Bill Buck, who was given credit for signing Cameron Maybin, Rick Porcello, and Justin Verlander — which triumvirate received nearly $10 million in bonuses, but whose rankings among Baseball America’s top-100 prospects at various points suggested they’d produce over $70 million more than that for the club in terms of overall value.

The thing about Porcello and Maybin and Verlander, though, is that they were all drafted in the first round, and first-round signings are typically the result not merely of a single, unkempt bird-dog following his intuition down a dusty, rural two-track, but rather of a decision made by a collection of front-office employees — including crosscheckers, a scouting director, and the general manager. As such, it doesn’t entirely make sense to credit an area scout with the signing of first-round draftee.

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The Top Performances of College Baseball’s First Week

What follows does not constitute the most rigorous of statistical analyses. Rather, it’s designed to serve as a nearly responsible shorthand for people who, like the author, have considerably more enthusiasm for than actual knowledge of the collegiate game — a shorthand means, that is, towards detecting which players have produced the most excellent performances over the first week of the college season.

As in a pair of earlier posts, what I’ve done is utilize principles recently introduced by Chris Mitchell on forecasting future major-league performance with minor-league stats.

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Five Names from College Baseball’s First Weekend

As the author has apparently had cause to mention here before, Apophatic [ap-a-FAT-ik] Theology is the method by which one endeavors to describe God by describing what God is not — the suggestion being that fewer persons and places and things belong to that latter category than the former.

Applied to something less substantial than an all-seeing and -knowing deity, however — like a human man, for example — apophasis [uh-PAW-fa-sis] naturally becomes a more time-consuming endeavor, on account of how human men are little more than walking husks of carbon consumed by vanity. Applied to the sort of very flawed human man who’s also the one composing this document, the process would become nearly infinite.

Which, what I mean to say is: among the many things I’m not, one of them is an expert in the field of college baseball. Accordingly, what follows ought not to be regarded as an attempt to analyze all collegiate baseball prospects. Instead, what I’ve done is merely to assemble — after having consumed the broadcasts of several games this weekend, read reports concerning others, and manipulated data from some of the top conferences — what I’ve done is to assemble a collection of five players whose performances this weekend were notable for one reason or another.

Here are some qualities which might contribute to a prospect’s notability for the purposes of this post:

  • He appeared within Kiley McDaniel’s way-too-early draft rankings; or
  • He played well relative to his age/level of competition; or
  • Video is available for him from this weekend; or
  • He possesses some other compelling feature.

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The Story of SABR101x

Professor Andy Andres remembers the first year that he and his colleagues, David Tybor and Morgan Melchiorre, taught the Sabermetrics 101 course at Tufts University. One of the more memorable lectures came on October 18, 2004, which was a pretty memorable night in New England. Though Game 5 of the American League Championship Series had started around 5 pm, Sabermetrics 101 — which met in the evenings — was still in session. At least for a time.

“We felt like we had to get through the lecture,” Andres recalls. “So Tybor and I, he’s got the radio, and every half inning we’d write the line score [on the blackboard].” But then in the eighth inning, David Ortiz belted a homer into the Monster seats. Andres and Tybor consulted, but determined that since Melchiorre had been lecturing about Derek Jeter’s defense at the time that they should let him preach, hoping the good karma would continue to rub off on the team. But they weren’t the only ones who had learned of Ortiz’s feats. “One of the girls in the back of the room, went ‘Wahooooooo, Ortiz just hit a home run!” Class dismissed. “We immediately shut it down, and switched to FOX,” Andres says.

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Can Diamondback Jake Lamb Survive?

Knock on wood, I certainly hope so. This piece isn’t about sending a tribute to the area, rather it is a discussion of the composition of the minor leagues and those who reach the major leagues.

While this article became a study of a the California League’s population, the concept began when I was thinking about Jake Lamb‘s prospect status. Lamb signed with the Diamondbacks last June and I stumbled upon him during his first Spring Training with the club — he ranked among the 10 best prospects I saw in Arizona. Intrigued, I followed his injury-riddled season closely and thought he would never garner the attention I believed he deserved because of his old age and collegiate pedigree (though, Hulet ranked him higher than anyone else this off season!).  Suddenly, I found myself buried in Excel attempting to discover what Jake Lamb’s chances were to become a major leaguer.

Statistical studies of prospects are difficult because the minor leagues are vast and rife with variables and failure. There are 189 teams across 16 full-season, short season and rookie leagues, each stocked with talent that may never make a major league 25-man roster. With over 5,000 minor leaguers vying for 750 MLB roster spots it can be easier to study the successes.

Studying only the players who reach the major leagues may be easier, but often such studies snag on “survivorship bias.” Survivorship bias may be present when a study’s population consists of a select group amongst a larger class. If one is going to study success, it’s wise to study failure too. For a demonstration of survivorship bias, read Dave Cameron’s post on The Value of Hunter Pence.

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Austin Wilson Is Not Only All About Tools

Watch Austin Wilson do anything on the field and you’re struck by his athleticism. Six-foot-five, 244 pounds of muscle, he glides across center field in the Sunken Diamond on defense. During batting practice, no bat makes a more satisfying sound than his.

But with parents that hold multiple degrees from MIT, Harvard and Stanford, obviously the Stanford center fielder is more than a collection of high-end body parts. In fact, his makeup could go a long way toward smoothing out the wrinkles in his game as he proceeds to the professional leagues. It has already helped.

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Seniority Rules In The Draft

When Stanford right-hander Mark Appel began his free-fall from the top spot to the eighth-overall selection due to signability concerns, many pointed to the new draft rules agreed upon in the most recent Collective Bargaining Agreement as the culprit.

The new draft rules call for each pick in the first ten rounds to have a monetary value. The draft budget for each team is the combined value of their respective draft picks in the first ten rounds. By now, most following the draft are aware that penalties exist for exceeding the draft budget — first a tax, then the loss of future draft picks. The catch is, though, that any unsigned pick in the first ten rounds costs that team the corresponding budget money allotted to that specific pick, and any bonus greater than $100,000 after the tenth round still counts toward the overall draft budget.

Thus, Mark Appel fell to the number eight slot held by the Pittsburgh Pirates because teams felt the Stanford pitcher would demand too much of their budget, and the worst scenario for any team would be that the two sides failed to come to an agreement. Little would happen to Appel. He would simply return to Stanford for his senior year and return for the 2013 Draft. Though for the major league team, they would not only throw away a first-round pick, but also forfeit a huge portion of their draft budget, which would handcuff their options in remaining rounds.

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Depth Powers Stanford to Regionals Win

This year, talk of Stanford baseball has centered mostly around two top-end talents in Mark Appel and Stephen Piscotty. The first is considered a lock for the first pick on campus, and the second is coveted for his patience and power even if he falls to the second round. Both players played their parts in their schools’ weekend wins this weekend in the College World Series regional, but they weren’t alone. Perhaps the most striking aspect of this Stanford team is the depth that powered them to three straight wins over regional baseball powers Pepperdine and Fresno State.

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Kenny Diekroeger’s Season

Diekroeger dealing. Photo courtesy Stanford Athletics.

In 2009, Menlo High School shortstop Kenny Diekroeger was drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays in the second round and was reportedly offered just over a million dollars to join the organization. He chose Stanford and stayed close to his Northern California roots. Most players, when faced with a similar choice, follow suit.

Diekroeger has no regrets. And he thinks this season has been just fine, too. Talk to the shortstop for even a few minutes, and you’ll realize he’s got an even-keeled outlook.

“Maybe it’s too bad that I didn’t get to see a different part of the country,” he admits, but we agreed he has a lot of life left to live, and it’s nice to do laundry at home, even if “that doesn’t actually happen as often you might think.” This Burlingame, Woodside and Menlo Park raised local felt that “it’s hard to turn down Stanford,” and “this place is so nice” and that he’s really enjoyed his time on the farm.

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Dean Stotz, Stanford’s Dean of Baseball Stats

Late in a conversation with Stanford ace Mark Appel, talk drifted to the use of advanced stats in the college game. What kind of statistical analysis was he familiar with? How much did the coaching staff give players to think about? Was he up-to-date on recent research?

“Oh, dunno much about that, but Dean Stotz usually has a page of information for us,” the right-hander told me. “It’s pretty intense.”

Stotz’s name might not be familiar to most baseball fans. After all, coach Mark Marquess is the face of the Stanford program -— as he has been for the past 34 years. But every year for more than three decades, Stotz has been at Marquess’ side. Though he’s listed as the hitting instructor, third base coach, erstwhile pitching coach and current primary recruiting coordinator, Stotz has perhaps a less-formal -— but another highly important -— title: dean of stats.

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MLB Draft: Top Collegiate Performers

Baseball has now returned for slightly over a week. Early storylines abound — such as Matt Kemp and the Dodgers starting the season 9-1 and the Los Angeles Angels struggling out of the gate — but as the next three or four weeks come to pass, more and more attention will shift to the MLB Draft.

Will the Houston Astros take prep outfielder Byron Buxton number one overall, or will they go the collegiate route and select right-hander Mark Appel? How far will right-hander Lucas Giolito fall after his spring injury? Which player does your favorite team covet in the first round?

All of those questions lack clear answers at this point. However, collegiate games are being played around the country, and the more high-profile players continue to take center stage amongst scouts and baseball fans alike.

Here are how some of the top draft-eligible collegiate players are performing this spring:

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Mark Appel’s Development

It’s the seventh inning of the first game in the opening series of the year. At about 55 degrees, the clear Palo Alto night is brisk but comfortable. Top prospect Mark Appel has held No. 10 Vanderbilt to one run on two hits so far, including four no-hit innings to start his season on the right foot. His top-rated Stanford squad is ahead comfortably after a home run by fellow Major-League prospect Stephen Piscotty and an inside-the-park home run from infielder-turned-catcher Eric Smith. With one out, an Appel changeup gets taken all the way to the wall for a long out.

Coach Mark Marquess heads to the mound for a conversation — his pitcher looks a little gassed. His Friday Night Starter shakes his head repeatedly, affirming that he’s fine. Marquess makes his way back to the dugout.

A groan erupts on social networks and in the crowd of scouts behind home plate. Even after a few more long fly-ball outs, the sentiment remains. Why should the Cardinal leave their ace out there in a game that is well in hand?

Because it was important to the Stanford ace.

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Drafting College Catchers a Risky Business

Finding a competent pro catcher from the collegiate ranks is harder than you might think. Only 10 out of the 30 projected 2012 starting catchers at the MLB level came from a college program. The majority of the backstops came from the international market or the prep ranks. Those 10 players are:

Jonathan Lucroy, Milwaukee Brewers, Louisiana at Lafayette, (3rd round)
Chris Snyder, Houston Astros, U Houston (2nd)
Nick Hundley, San Diego Padres, U Arizona (2nd)
Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants, Florida State U (1st)
Tim Federowicz, Los Angeles Dodgers, U North Carolina 7th
Chris Iannetta, Los Angeles Angels, U North Carolina (4th)
Kurt Suzuki, Oakland Athletics, Cal State (4th)
J.P. Arencibia, Toronto Blue Jays, U Tennessee (1st)
Matt Wieters, Baltimore Orioles, Georgia Tech (1st)
Alex Avila, Detroit Tigers, U Alabama (5th)

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College Baseball Opening Weekend Notes (Batters)

On Monday, we recapped some highlights from top college pitching prospects who are going to be in the 2012 MLB draft (and potentially, on your favorite baseball-ling team!). A reminder to give @KendallRogersPG and @aaronfitt a follow on Twitter for live updates of top college prospects.

Today, we’ll take a look at the notable batting performances from the past week, ranked approximately by 2012 batting prospect you most need to know about. Each performance is accompanied by a quick scouting report of the batter’s profile, courtesy of FanGraphs’ own Mark Anderson (you can read more of his work at Baseball Prospect Nation as well as his post from yesterday):

C Mike Zunino, Florida (6-2, 215 lbs)
.474/.565/.895 in 23 PAs with 2 HRs
Zunino had a great first week to the season and could be the second college hitter picked in the draft. He has a good catcher’s build and is a plus defender as well. Zunino also credited a shortened stride in his swing that helped him hit two home runs against Bethune-Cookman on Tuesday. And after hitting .371/.442/.674 with 19 home runs last season, he is expecting that teams will pitch him outside of the strike zone more. “I know I’m going to get pitched there most of the year,” Zunino said. “I just got too antsy this weekend and was able to sit back in my stance [Tuesday] and get a couple pitches I can drive.”

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College Baseball Opening Weekend Notes (Pitchers)

Pitchers and catchers reported this past weekend, but what’s also exciting is that college baseball opened as well. It’s never too early to start reading about 2012 MLB draft prospects, and we’d like to start bringing you some coverage for the draft as well. Before we go on though, give @KendallRogersPG and @aaronfitt a follow on Twitter for live-updates of college prospects — they give you so much more than just line scores in their commentary.

Today, we’ll take a look at the notable pitching performances from the weekend, ranked approximately by 2012 pitching prospect you most need to know about:

RHP Mark Appel, Stanford (6-5, 195 lbs)
7.0IP, 2H, 1R, 1ER, 2BB, 5K
While the stat line looks decent, reports out of Palo Alto were expecting more out of the early projected #1 overall pick. He touched 97 in the 1st, but remained in the low-90s the rest of the game. His changeup was not impressive, and he didn’t show a good breaking ball until the 5th. Keith Law ($) was not particularly impressed either with Appel’s continued lack of missed bats.

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Cal and Stanford: A Modern Rivalry

“No offense, but I don’t like Stanford.” — Tony Renda, Cal Star Second Baseman

The rivalry is under assault in sports these days. Because of high-profile incidents in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles, law enforcement has a reason to try and suppress the vitriol inherent in some storied rivalries. The state of the modern game changes things too — free agency means fans are reduced to rooting for laundry, and interleague baseball means that a team is just as likely to see one team as any other.

But college is different, right? Maybe not.

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The State of Sabermetrics in the College Game

Wednesday was Media Day at Stanford University. Some of the most successful coaches in the college game were gathered in Palo Alto to introduce their teams and take questions about the upcoming season. While there were little snippets of saber-awareness throughout, the overall feeling was perhaps more old-school than the professional game.

Up first was Mark Marquess, Stanford coach since 1977. Proud of his team, recently named the pre-season number two in the nation, he probably the most sabrermetrically-friendly of the group. First, he reacted to the new ball. After giving the caveat that the new bat was “here to stay,” he pointed out that decreasing offense was risky in terms of attendance and popularity of the game. He then added something that FanGraphs readers might applaud.

Third and fourth hitters in the pros are not bunting. They are in college. Maybe another year of adjustment will change things, but that’s how people reacted to the bat last year and it wasn’t necessarily a good thing. — Mark Marquess

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